Thanks to Kentucky’s limestone geology, the state has an incredible collection of caves and caverns–there are over 130 caves in Kentucky, with a mile or more of charted tunnels. Everyone knows about the world’s longest cave system Mammoth Cave National Park, but the fact that Kentucky has dozens of other caves to explore–including a massive cavern with an underground bike park–might not be common knowledge.
Explore The Mysteries Of These 6 Caves In Kentucky
If you want to avoid the mega-crowds that Kentucky’s national park tends to draw, skip Mammoth Cave in favor of these lesser-known, but equally stunning and mysterious caves in Kentucky.
1. Carter Caves State Park
The Carter County region of the state has the highest concentration of caves in Kentucky. At Carter Caves State Park, you’ll find over 20 caves and a number of ways to explore them, from self-guided tours to a cave crawl where visitors must pass a squeeze test before purchasing tickets. Four of the park’s caves offer guided cave walking tours year-round. For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, check out Cascade Cave, named for it’s 30-foot underground waterfall. When you’ve had enough time underground, pop above the surface and enjoy more than 26 miles of hiking trails in the park.
Camp Nearby: Carter Caves State Park
Luckily for all you spelunkers out there, Carter Caves State Park has an on-site campground with 90 standard electric sites, 31 tent-only sites, and nine campsites for equestrians. The campground is open year-round and has flush toilets and shower houses.
“Primitive camp sites are great!! Nice facilities, limited full hook up for campers. Super nice staff. Beautiful area for day trips or extended stays.” —The Dyrt camper Stephanie W.
2. Crystal Onyx Cave
First discovered by prehistoric people–and rediscovered by modern man in 1960–Crystal Onyx Cave is one of the most interesting caves in Kentucky (when it was rediscovered in the 1960’s, for example, human bones were found in the cave.) Open Memorial Day through Labor Day, this privately owned cave features curtains of stalactites, domes, sinkholes and other natural wonders. Just a quick jump from Mammoth Cave, Crystal Onyx Cave is well-loved by in-the-know cave enthusiasts.
Camp Nearby: Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park at Mammoth Cave
Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park campground offers a range of spacious campsites for RVs, travel trailers, pop-ups, vans and tents. Most sites have full-hookups, but there are a limited number that have water and electric only. The campground also has an array of cabins available to rent.
“Been several times at different times of the year. The summer months fill up quick. Great place to visit on its own or with day trips to Mammoth Cave.” —The Dyrt camper Chris R.
3. Louisville Mega-Cavern
One of the largest caverns in the United States, the Louisville Mega-Cavern is aptly named–it’s approximately 100 acres in size. What was once a large mining operation is now an adventure wonderland where visitors come to ride the underground tram or zip-line, participate in a ropes challenge course, or ride bikes. In fact, the Mega-Cavern features a 320,000-square-foot underground bike park with over 45 single- and double-track trails. For those that like their cave and cavern exploration with a serious side of adventure, the Louisville Mega-Cavern must be experienced.
Camp Nearby: Jefferson Memorial Forest Campground
About a 20-minute drive from the Louisville Mega-Cavern is the Jefferson Memorial Forest Campground, a large campground with full-hookup, electric/water only, and tent only sites as well as camping cabins. The campground is well-situated to not only the Louisville Mega-Cavern, but also to downtown Louisville and all of its shops, restaurants and amenities.
“This place afforded us the ability to enjoy the city and then kick back at a nice scenic spot. Very great accommodations!” —The Dyrt camper Molly G.
4. Lost River Cave
Donated to Western Kentucky University in 1986, Lost River Cave is a story of conservation and sustainability. Back in 2001, encroaching development threatened to impact the land surrounding the cave, so acreage around the cave was acquired to create a 70-acre park of trails, wetlands, meadows and restored prairie. Of all the caves in Kentucky, Lost River Cave is home to the only underground boat tour in the state. Visitors to Lost River Cave glide through its entrance on the water before entering a cathedral-like cavern where they’re wowed by the otherworldly limestone formations.
Camp Nearby: Bowling Green KOA
The Bowling Green KOA is just an 8-minute drive to Lost River Cave. The campground offers an extensive number of campsites for everyone from tent campsites with water and electric through full-hookup RV sites.
“Great campground… close to everything you want to see in Bowling Green. Helpful staff!” —The Dyrt camper Katy L.
5. Cub Run Cave
Considered to be one of the most beautiful caves in America, Cub Run Cave can be seen in it’s entirety during an easy half-mile walking tour. During that tour, visitors will be awed by incredible rock formations like cave coral, cave popcorn, and a natural pool that was formed by a dip in the ceiling of the cave. It’s one of only four caves in the U.S. to have a rare formation called boxwork and visitors report that, step for step, Cub Run Cave has more formations than Mammoth Cave and shouldn’t be missed.
Camp Nearby: Nolin Lake State Park
Around 20 minutes away from Cub Run Cave is Nolin Lake State Park. The campground at the park has 32 campsites with water and electric and 27 primitive campsites—some of which offer lakefront views. The park also has a restroom and shower building as well as laundry facilities and a shaded playground for kids looking for some above-ground fun.
“I’ve only been here once, but loved the trip. Great swimming, fishing, and hiking around. It’s pretty close to Mammoth Cave and has a ton of places to stay if you wanting to camp.” –The Dyrt camper Andrew S.
6. Diamond Caverns
Another stunning cave with a rich history, Diamond Caverns was discovered in 1859 when a man was lowered into a pit in the ground and saw sparkling calcite formations that resembled diamonds, thus giving the cave its name. Almost right away, the cave became a tourist attraction and, except for short periods during the Civil War, has been welcoming visitors for nearly 150 years making it the fourth oldest operating cave in the United States. In 1999, new owners purchased the cave and, the next day, discovered the largest room yet in Diamond Caverns. The new discovery remains undeveloped and pristine and–at least for now–has limited access.
Camp Nearby: Diamond Caverns RV Resort
Located close to both Diamond Caverns and Mammoth Cave, Diamond Caverns RV Resort is a large campground with full hookup RV sites and tent camping sites. The campground also has a dump station, shower house and laundry room. When you’re done exploring the nearby caves, check out the campground’s hiking, biking and walking trails, and the 18-hole golf course.
“Diamond Caverns RV Resort was an enjoyable stay on the edge of Mammoth Cave National Park. Right off of I-65, it’s a short drive to the campground.” —The Dyrt camper Shelly S.